Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lessons from Bamboo

I recently heard an interesting fact about Bamboo plants:  After planting, the bamboo will remain in the ground, developing here and there, ever so slowly, for a full four years.  Then suddenly, in the fifth year or thereabouts, it will shoot up out of the ground, reaching 90 feet in height over the course of about three weeks.  For years you can't see any progress, and then -- bang! -- bamboo enough for the hungriest of pandas.

I wasn't watching one of those cool nature shows on PBS when I learned this fact.  My hubby told me that it was something he heard on some parenting segment of a radio broadcast.  Now I don't know about you, but typically I don't expect to hear about the life cycle of horticulture when listening to a parenting program.  That's like hearing about volcanic eruptions on a cooking show or the ecology of tide pools at a financial seminar.  But it was brought up by some parent (who was, perhaps, a botanist?) as an apt analogy to raising children.

It especially encourages me because we have officially entered with Lilia what is popularly referred to as the "terrible twos."  It's also known as toddlerhood.  Yes, folks, the babymoon is over.  Toddlerhood is here.

Welcome to the real world.

Over the course of the past month, Jerry and I have found ourselves frequently asking this question:  "Uh, where did our adorable and sweet little baby go??"  It has prompted us to seek some wisdom from a plethora of sources, and one of those sources is a book called The New Dare to Discipline, by Dr. James Dobson.  The focus of the book is having the courage, as a parent, to discipline (train and teach) your children -- consistently, wisely, diligently, and always in a spirit of love and tenderness.

Among other things, Dr. Dobson is absolutely hilarious.  As Jerry and I sit and read this book, we often find ourselves just busting up over some of his anecdotes and descriptions.  Here is a choice tidbit on 'toddlerhood':

"... let's say a few words about that marvelous time of life known as toddlerhood.  It begins with a bang (like the crash of a lamp or a porcelain vase) at about eighteen months of age and runs hot and heavy until about the third birthday... Children between fifteen and thirty-six months of age do not want to be restricted or inhibited in any manner, nor are they inclined to conceal their viewpoint.  They resent every nap imposed on them, and bedtime becomes an exhausting, dreaded ordeal each night.  They want to play with everything in reach, particularly fragile and expensive ornaments.  They prefer using their pants rather than the potty, and insist on eating with their hands.  And need I remind you that most of what goes in their mouths is not food.  When they break loose in a store, they run as fast as their little fat legs will carry them.  They pick up the kitty by its ears and then scream bloody murder when scratched.  They want mommy within three feet of them all day, preferably in the role of their full-time playmate.  Truly, the toddler is a tiger!

We were laughing like hyenas when reading this, mostly because it describes very nearly word for word what life is now like with our once-adorable, once-angelic little Peanut.  We still love her just as much (if not more than) as ever.  She's just more... well, toddler-like now.

Part of this toddlerhood thing means training (i.e:  discipline).  Sometimes it means discipline of the same kind and for the same offense five or six times within as many minutes.  It's exhausting, and it changes your daily life.  I don't remember when I last folded laundry or fed the cat (is he even still alive?!).  Dinners are often delayed or postponed indefinitely, and need I even mention that romance with one's spouse is uh, well, not as frequent as before.  *ahem*

There are times when I really, truly wonder if it's making any difference, this intentional parenting thing.  When I find myself telling Lilia, "For the one-hundred-thousandth time, do not take objects off of the counter top," and then I proceed to hold her little arms down firmly at her sides, gently but firmly telling her no and that I love her and that if she does it again it will mean a hand-flick or a spanking because I want her to stay safe...  Is it really making any difference?  Will she ever get it?

That's where the bamboo part comes in.  It's still early days. The planting has been done, and now there's the tending, the watering, the care-taking.  And then one day, as most parents say, your child does something or says something and you realize that the growth is there.  It shoots up before your eyes like bamboo, all of a sudden.  And it's because you were diligent to watch, to love, to give, to care.

I've not known anything as exhausting as being a parent.  Teaching children in a classroom is small potatoes compared to this daunting endeavor.  But I can honestly say that parenting -- even the hard parts -- has brought more joy to my life than I ever thought possible.  Watching that little Peanut toddle around the room is just the cutest little thing in the world to me.

If I can experience that level of joy now, when the growth is still hidden, what will it be like when the shoots appear?  I can only guess, and pray, that the harvest will be unimaginably sweet.

So here's to bamboo.  (And now I should probably go see if the cat is still alive).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Behind Prison Walls

When Chuck Colson died on April 21, people remembered him as one of two things:  President Nixon's "hatchet man" in the Watergate Scandal, or a leader in Christian evangelical circles.  He was both of those things, and I imagine he was much more, too.

After his conversion (which, by the way, was after his involvement in the whole Watergate thing), he served time in prison and then founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry that has shared the love of Christ with inmates all over the world.  Because he was a prisoner, he could empathize with prison inmates in a way that many of us cannot.  He understood the brokenness, the sense of isolation, the despondency.  He went to them personally, telling them that God loves them, that He sent His Son to die for them, that there is hope, even for them.  Many of those prisoners trusted Christ, and some are now following in Colson's footsteps, reaching out to others as he reached out to them.  

I was reading an article recently about Colson, and the author noted how God is not a respecter of persons.  He extends his offer of salvation to the entire world.  As the author put it, "The worship arising behind prison walls sounds just as sweet to God as the prayers from the church pews."  I think I often forget this.  I feel all cozy and justified on Sunday morning, but I often forget that there was a time when I was a prisoner, too.  I wasn't incarcerated, but I was a captive --  to my sin, to my pride, to my hopeless despair.  And then Jesus came one night and set me free. 

I'm told that when a convict is released from prison after serving time, there is (typically) a far greater appreciation for freedom.  Similarly, at those times when I give serious remembrance to my life before Christ, my self-righteousness and pride are shattered like glass, and I feel what it was like to be a prisoner.  I remember.  And it's at those times when Jesus is sweeter to me than on any Sunday morning.  He becomes to me once again what He should be at every waking and sleeping moment:  Rescuer, Hero, Lovingkindness, Friend.

Chuck Colson walked in the footsteps of Jesus by taking the good news of salvation to the dregs of society.  He has left a legacy, and I am grateful to him for that.

Really though, we are all the dregs, every one of us, and we all need a Savior.  We are masters at disguise, but God is not fooled.  He looks at us behind our prison bars with pity and love, and He waits for us to step out toward Him, and sing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Like a Weaned Child

I was reading last night in the Psalms, and the few words comprising number 131 gently stung:

My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

I've been worried lately, enough to cause my husband near insanity with frequent verbal queries, such as:

"Will the IRS ever really give us our adoption tax credit?"

"Will Lilia get out of her big girl bed in the night and strangle herself on the window blind cords?"

"What is the mathematical possibility of an EF5 tornado plowing through our town and pulverizing our home?"

And (to go along with the tornado question), "Do we have every important document and precious item securely tucked away into our safety deposit box?"

"What if the EF5 tornado pulverizes the bank wherein is contained our safety deposit box?"

"Will Iran make use of nuclear weapons?"

As you can see, I draw from a deep well of worry.  My kind, patient husband tries to gently remind me not to worry, and when my worrisome ways grate him too much he simply says in his almost-mean-if-he-could-have-a-mean-voice way, "You HAVE to stop worrying!"


I don't think I lay too grievous an offense at the feet of my sex if I say that I do believe we, as women, tend to worry more than men.  I don't think it's any coincidence that it was Martha whom Jesus gently rebuked for this weakness instead of, say, John or Matthew.  Not that men don't worry, because they do.  But I think that women tend to worry more, that it is somehow more inextricably linked into our post-fall DNA or something.  Or maybe cytosine and guanine have nothing to do with it:  Maybe it's just our need for security and safety that so easily causes us to be pushed over the cliff into the gulf of anxiety.  

At any rate, I've been worried lately, and then I read Psalm 131 last night.

My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.

My heart is proud and my eyes are haughty.  I think of myself far too frequently.  It's like a disease with me or something.  Whenever my eyes are on me, I worry.  Like Keith Green sung, "Oh, it's so hard to see when my eyes are on me."  Yes, Lord, my heart is proud and my eyes are haughty.  I confess it.

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

Sure I do.  All the time.  Most recently it involves the IRS thing and wondering if they will truly ever give us our multi-thousand dollar adoption tax credit.  As the eternal pessimist, my inclination is to simply state, "Yeah, sure they will. When pigs fly they'll give us our adoption tax credit."  And then I spend the next umpteen minutes agonizing over the impossibility of dealing with the red tape of government (and, incidentally, worrying about the future of our health care system if Uncle Sam can't even deal with a simple adoption tax credit!).  You see, the worry never ends with me.  

The truth is, I concern myself with things "too wonderful for me" far too often.  This doesn't mean it's a bad thing to wonder what causes supernovas or to ponder the intricacies of the human cell:  It's good to learn and discover.  But the "too wonderful" things are things that I have no control over, things I can't possibly change one way or the other:

Will we get our money back from the IRS?  I don't know, but if we don't, surely life will go on and God will use that for His glory and our good.

Will we ever have another child?  Very possibly not, but whether we do or don't, we've been blessed with one precious daughter, and God has been good to us.

Where will Jerry get his next job?  How long will it take for that to come?  I have no way to know this, but God goes before us and paves our way, and He plans our good and not our destruction.  

He cares for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, so surely He cares for me, too.  Right?

There's a nest in our backyard cottonwood tree with a beautiful, elegant dove.  She is nesting.  We love to stand beneath the branches where she has laid her nest.  We love to stand there and just watch her lovely face and watch her protect her eggs.  It's a lovely thing she is doing, just being and just carrying out the plan God laid for her.  God has given her all she needs for the task, and that she does.  

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother,  like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Yesterday in church we sung an old hymn with these words:  "Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, how I've proved Him over and over.  Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus, oh for grace to trust Him more."

I felt that I couldn't honestly sing the words to that song, so I ad-libbed:  "Jesus, Jesus, how I (used to) trust Him, how I (used to) prove Him over and over."

And then the last words I didn't have to ad-lib:  "Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus, oh for grace to trust Him more."

The thing about a weaned child is this:  He or she isn't worried because mommy is nearby and every need is provided.  That's what is so beautiful about seeing a newborn baby with his mother.  The tenderness, the helplessness, is such a beautiful sight.  That is partly why we love to watch the mother dove in our backyard tree.  She doesn't do anything really except sit there on her eggs and be a mommy.  It's a simple, lovely thing.

We used to wonder when we'd have a child, whether through adoption or pregnancy.  I worried about that once, too.  And you can read about that story elsewhere, but God gave us a beautiful little girl.  

I noticed several months ago that I had this bookmark tucked away in my bedside drawer.  I hadn't seen the bookmark for ages, but it tumbled out of my drawer one day when I was searching for something else.  There's a lifelike rendering on this bookmark of a very pretty little girl, about two years old.  It struck me immediately when I saw it:  That looks almost exactly like Lilia!  Jerry noticed it, too.  Except for darker eyes, it's a picture of our daughter, and she's standing there holding a bouquet of white daisies.

I had that bookmark for years without ever noticing the little girl.  I had no way of knowing that our own daughter would very nearly be her spitting image.  It's no theological faux pas to say that God knew exactly what Lilia would look like, and that she would be ours.  

Underneath the picture of the little girl is this Scripture:  ... give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the Lord is good and His love endures forever...

So why do I worry again?